A large group of people cycled through the town of Vught last Friday. Accompanied by the Vught alderman for traffic, a council member and the senior traffic policy maker. Together they were on a tour to visit good and bad cycling infrastructure. At least good and bad in the eyes of this very specific group of people cycling: the elderly.
Dutch elderly people cycle a lot. There are more elderly than before and they cycle more often and also further. Sounds good, but it came with a price: more than half of all cycle deaths last year were people over the age of 65, an incredible figure! In 2012, 200 people cycling were killed in the Netherlands, but of those 200 no less than 108 were over the age of 65! It becomes even more mind-boggling when you consider that 60% of all bicycle crashes with serious injuries were single vehicle crashes. No motor vehicle, no other cyclists, not even a pedestrian was involved. Dutch elderly seem to just fall off their bicycles and they often sustain severe injuries or they even die.
Dutch traffic experts are trying to find out what the cause of this all is. And once the cause is known if they can do something about it.
Preliminary results point in several directions. As a group, the elderly are not involved in more accidents but they are more vulnerable. When something happens to them the consequences are more severe. Also the infrastructure seems to be a factor of significance. Junctions need to be very clear as the elderly generally cannot process too much sensory input at once. Wide and obstacle free cycle paths (including forgiving curbs) are best and they should be very well maintained. A smooth surface makes it easier to hold your balance.
Bicycles can be adapted to the special needs of elderly cyclists. A simple mirror can help when looking over the shoulder becomes more difficult. A low frame can make mounting and dismounting safer. The weight of especially e-bikes on the other hand can be an endangering factor.
In Vught, four organisations joined forces to investigate what the elderly in Vught themselves think are the dangerous locations for them. The Vught chapter of the Cyclists’ Union, the Vught chapter of the Catholic Union for the Elderly, and two smaller advisory bodies questioned elderly people. The results of the questionnaires were presented to the municipality last Friday. To make their points even better, the most mentioned “danger spots” were visited on the cycle tour.
The alderman for traffic Wilbert Seuren made clear that he is happy with all the information that becomes available, but not all traffic situations can be changed easily. Council member Brigit Cordes explained that she gladly took this opportunity to hear about the problems from representatives of this specific group of road users first hand. Marco Cruijssen, the senior traffic policy maker of the municipality was also clear. Infrastructure can be built according to the latest design specifications, but if a large group of road users singles out that piece of infrastructure as dangerous, you can either maintain that it is built correctly or you can try to figure out what you can do about it to make those people feel safer there.
It was interesting to see that people mentioned encounters with motor traffic as most dangerous. While the figures paint a different picture. It can very well be that what people perceive as the most dangerous situations for them are actually not the most dangerous situations at all. Most accidents with elderly happen while mounting and dismounting the bicycle and they have done that so often that they do not recognise that risk.
The group of elderly will further increase in the near future in the Netherlands. Especially the group of over 75s will grow. It is very important that it becomes better known what the Dutch can do to protect their elderly from the higher risks of injuries and death. Reason for the large-scale and in-depth investigations currently in process in the Netherlands.
My video about the cycle tour by elderly people in Vught.
Part of the investigations was also a tour to judge the surfaces of the (cycling) infrastructure of Vught. I wrote a blog post about that tour earlier.
17 thoughts on “Elderly people on a cycle tour in Vught”
My usual neighbour in church is over 80 and still cycles to church.
His cardiologist told him to cycle on an ordinary bike for as long as he’s able.
Indeed I think autorities have to be very careful about subsidies for e-bikes. They can certainly be useful as an assist where there are hills (there are a few in the southern Netherlands) and high winds, common in much of the country. But here (in Montréal), I’ve seen seniors really speeding on the things (I’m not terribly much younger, being a boomer, but these e-cyclists looked more out of shape).
One of the arguments for e-bikes I’ve read is precisely that seniors would be able to keep up with the flow of cycle traffic, but it is probably better for younger cyclists to simply accommodate those who move more slowly and pass them when they can safely do so.
Every 5 or 10K miles- you are going to have an accident- the statistics prove it. Sometimes you are injured. It is the repercussion of an active lifestyle, always has been always will be.I have a broken collarbone, left ring finger per cycling accidents- I’m not alone. Older bodies break easier- heal slower. Injury and the like IS living per my point of view. Being sedimentary- well -thence heart failure is more likely.
I’ve been cycling 25 years and never even fallen off once or had any kind of injury, despite the daily bad driving I see. But then I don’t see going to the shops on my bike as an “active lifestyle” or an extreme sport. It’s just a cheap and easy way to get around.
Accidents are not inevitable (unless you’re using a cycle lane in Britain :P) There are always lessons to be learned about how things can be changed for the better, which is just what the cycling group in the video is doing, and of course, if you design what’s best for your most vulnerable group, then it’s better for everyone! If everyone had your attitude, we’d still be driving cars with no seat belts or airbags.
The average dutch person cycles around 900km per year. If we had an accident every 10k miles (lower end of your scale), 1 in 17 would have an accident each year, that’s about 1 million cycling-related accidents for 17M dutchies.
In reality, about 71.000 people have to go the emergency department of a hospital (of which 9000 have to stay for at least a day). What exactly do you mean by an ‘accident’? If you count every fall in which no harm is done and nobody gets injured, it’s likely true (I can’t find any statistics on those, since they’re hard to count), but broken collarbones and fingers would be more scarce that you suggest.
You know, my gran is safely cocooned in an Australian nursing home where she can’t really go anywhere because it’s surrounded by busy roads, without any nice footpaths or anywhere to walk to. Ironically, she has broken her hips a few times and had some nasty falls during her sedentary existence. She is almost 100 and does NOT WANT to be around anymore. She’s bored, and done with it. Being able to ride around independently, even if there is a prospect of serious or fatal injury is a good deal. I know my Dad would be very happy to die playing golf!
Taboo of course, but maybe cycling helmets would help prevent some deaths in these low speed, single vehicle crashes, where the cyclist’s declining strength may make it difficult for them to prevent their head from hitting the ground.
As a wrote to a commenter at the video on YouTube: “There is a fundamental difference between how the Dutch try to stay safe and wearing helmets. With a helmet you try to keep the damage as low as possible *after* a fall. But it doesn’t help against broken hips, knees, elbows etc. and you can question how much it helps against injuries to the head. The Dutch try to *prevent* the fall in the first place by good road infrastructure. Because that *does* prevent all the injuries I mentioned.”
It’s not really taboo, it’s just untrue. Helmets would prevent *at most* 19% of emergency room treatments of cyclists aged 55+, and that is if helmets prevent *all* types of head injuries in *all* crashes (let’s be honest, they don’t). The emergency room statistics show that only 1% of all single vehicle crashes of cyclists aged 55+ results in major brain or skull injury.
Statistics from Emergency Rooms, 2006-2010
Injuries of people aged 55+ in single vehicle crashes:
43% shoulder, arm or hand
28% hip, leg or foot
19% head or neck
— 7% open wound on head
— 5% minor brain/skull injury
— 3% bruises on head
— 1% major brain/skull injury
Formatting of my comment didn’t turn out exactly as I wanted/expected. The percentages with a dash are a sub-category of the “19% head or neck”: 7% + 5% + 3% + 1% + unspecified = 19%.
I am 75. I had an accident wearing a helmet and suffered brain injury. Without a helmet I would have died. I think the people who don’t wear helmets think they are invincible.
I assume the major issue with elderly deaths (without seeing hospital data) is that bones are more fragile as we get older. In the elderly, the risk of complications from broken bones (infection and the like) is also much more prevalent. I think I read somewhere that the data indicated electric bikes, and the speeds they attain, may have something to do with the increase? I’m a believer in that you should only go as fast as you can pedal :-). Self limiting.
It’s not just the bones that become more brittle. Reactions are slower, eyesight diminishes, hearing becomes less acute and keeping your balance becomes more difficult due to degradation of the balancing sensors in your ears. I know, I’m 75 now and need to be a lot more careful where I tread even on foot. One solution might be to switch to a tricycle which at least doesn’t keel over when you stop. There are also lower bicycles with smaller wheels so it’s easier to put your feet on the ground. But try to sell them to people who have confidently cycled all their lives on the usual high bikes: “I’m not an invalid, you know!”.
My hunch is that so many elderly people die whilst cycling for exactly the same reason that the most dangerous sport in North America is… golf.
The reason is that everyone is going to die and they are going to die somewhere. A lot of elderly people play golf, and a game can take a long time to play. Any activity that elderly people spend a lot of time doing will have a lot of them dying while doing it.
I think your comment and opinion is over simplified. It’s an easy explanation for a complex problem. I think the Dutch have the solution, provide safe cycling for all ages. Young and old. They will find a way.
I was thinking the exact same thing: heart failures, strokes and other causes of death can make a significant percentage of traffic death figures here. Not all of it, of course. Leaves the question if elderly should keep on cycling. Definitely! I would say. Health benefits must be many times higher than health risks.